Who Speaks for Wolf: Contemplations on Interspecies Unity in Diversity

Submitted by Arthur Dahl on 28. May 2011 - 17:16
Grayzel, John Aron



John Aron Grayzel

Paper presented at the 4th Annual Conference of the International Environment Forum
organized jointly with the Social and Economic Development Seminar for the Americas
12-14 December 2000, Orlando, Florida, USA

[This paper is as presented at the Conference, and has not been subject to editorial review by the IEF]

This paper has seven fundamental purposes. First, to help us grasp an awareness of much grander possibilities for addressing present environmental challenges, particularly biodiversity, than are now commonly imagined today. Second, to encourage consideration of such a grander understandings in the context of unity in diversity applied not just to man but also to the fundamental nature of the interrelation between man and animals. Third, that to understand the full potential of our options, one has to understand the extent to which human cultural diversity and species diversity has been and can be inextricably intertwined. Fourth, to realize that, from a scientific point of view, what gives the most immediate new possibilities for interspecies dependency relationships is our rapidly increasing ability for communication on all levels. Fifth, that given the above circumstances, it is both desirable as well as necessary that we take an extremely pro-active stance in terms of our relationships with other species. A stance that not only stresses stewardship over exploitation but that also stresses interdependency and not segregation. Sixth, that given the great changes that are in store for the world, we must seek to match our technical possibilities with ethical considerations, based on guidance that can only come from spiritual teaching. And lastly, Seventh, that given all the above, it is encumbered upon Baha'is to endeavor to use the Baha'i teaching so as to empower and invigorating our understanding of environmental stewardship beyond that presently operative in the World.

Let us take each of these seven points in order:

As regards the matter of a grander possibility, let me begin with the quick story from my own life that helped give rise to my present position. In February 1998 I went to the Democratic Republic of the Congo as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) mission director. That nation had been the subject of a civil war. It was wracked by general violence much of it originating from the unfortunate events that had happened in the neighboring nation of Rwanda. Along the border with Rwanda, in addition to major refugee camps, existed several major national parks that contained various rare and in many cases endangered species, including guerrillas and rhinoceros. One of the first proposals that was placed before me for consideration was an activity generated by a well-known international conservation organization. In order to protect the remaining twenty-four members of a unique subspecies of rhinoceros, the group was asking for funding for a special activity. That activity would fund hiring a South African mercenary group to train Congolese guards to drop ordinance from aircraft on apparent poachers of animals in the park. There was another suggestion by another group for the removal of the remaining twenty-four animals to a safe haven outside the park in another country until they could be returned to the park when peace was restored. This idea was rejected by the controlling organization as being against the basic principle of conservation in situ and the objective of keeping the park safe from human encroachment.

At this time there was in Kinshasa a very dedicated locally generated movement that was rescuing young baby bonobos, (also known as pigmy chimpanzees). Bonobos are the primate species actually closest to man. They live in a unique pacifistic matriarchal society that stresses constant emotional reinforcement. (When two Bonobos troops meet they immediately "make love not war"). About an estimated 2500 of these animals exist in two remote areas of the Congo, but young babies were being captured and transported for sale into Kinshasa. The Kinshasa based volunteer organization rescued these young bonobos from the local market and through scraping together local donations and leftover from various grocery stores and hotels was able to maintain them into special area on land donated by the American School Kinshasa. The school has existed for over 25 years on 43 acres next to a military camp and yet amazingly had never been closed or attacked despite years of chaos and occasional violence in the country.

The Bonobo is an animal that degenerates rapidly unless it receives nurturing attention. Therefore as much as food and shelter the young bonobos needed constant contact. In response, the support group in Kinshasa had to arrange daily visits to emotionally nurture the animals. Despite various publications, popular books and even organizational fund raising in various parts of the world for the protection of primate species - including specifically the bonobos - the group in Kinshasa was unable to obtain any significant financial contributions from such groups for its ad hoc activities. They only survived day by day through local contributions. For me the choices were obvious if counter intuitive. The group wanting to save the rhinos should have removed them from the park rather than attempt (unsuccessfully) to import into the park the response of lethal attacks upon supposed poachers, some of whom may well have been almost starving people looking for their last chance for a meal. Conversely, activities such as that in Kinshasa, which took rare species in need of protection and integrated them into existing and sustainable human institutions, seemed temporarily more viable and more responsive to immediate needs.

What do these examples from the Congo show us? I believe they gives us a portrait of the two currently dominating understandings of our options for trying to exercise responsible care of other species, particularly endangered species. The position as demonstrated by the conservation group is that we have to isolate animals from the ill effects of what is a fundamentally an anti-biodiversity oriented civilization. The position of the second group is that we must protect these other species by taking direct responsive for nurturing them in a highly dependent mode. The thesis of this paper is that both of these positions are not adequate responses to the need for sustainable biodiversity in the face of the tremendous challenges that face us in a global system under massive transformation.

The first approach is fighting a losing war against the odds, as demonstrated in the Congo by the eventual decimation of the national parks by fleeing refugees, marauding roaring soldiers and starving local populations. It is futile to think that other species aren't going to suffer in a world decimated by violence and warfare between people and between people and their resource base. This "protection first approach" is inadequate to the challenge. Partially this is also because it tends to focus on immediate things that seemed to touch us most. So we see so much of conservation directed at a few appealing primate or primary species on the high-end the food chain, such as apes, eagles and elephants. These species have been called "flag ship species" but are functionally more like "conservation totems". These species only represent the narrowest tip of the ecological system on which they naturally depended. In most cases they were never the most important element in the overall ecological system. They are on the top of the food chain and probably would be the least missed from the overall system than other less visible species, including those on the micro level, that represent the foundation of the pyramid and whose disappearance is more likely to cause total system collapse.

Of the other hand, the nurturing orientation also has severe deficiencies. To begin with, it cannot deal in any way with the total biodiversity, in mass or variety, which is threatened by the present structure of human development. Things do not vastly improve with the second option. This option is based upon a premise of human domination and species dependencies on human beings. In this sense it is an extension of the human culture of the domestication of the species that we see in the domesticated animals. It might be called "selective patronage" rather than "stewardship". Given the enormous diversity of species that face us and the importance of the dynamic and complex interaction of all elements in an ecology system, such a "nurturing patronage" approach cannot possible manage the full gamut of rich and complex relationships.

If we are to address the challenges that face us we have to come up with yet another alternative to these two approaches. It is the purpose of this paper to attempt to forward for consideration one such alternative under the rubric of the Baha'i paradigm of unity in diversity. This attempt calls for imagining a different interspecies relationship. As such it takes issue with the common perception of many environmentalists that preservation of species more often than not requires separation from people; and that our objective should be to preserve a supposedly past pristine nature, as much as possible. The alternative view offered is one wherein human beings and other species would be more united in a dynamic give-and-take with a capacity to better recognize and adjust to the needs of each other on an ongoing, real-time basis, in a changing environment that itself could adjust to the needs of this dynamic relationship. This alternative may be viewed as a call for a global society that is more than just a human global society.

This paper presents an alternative understanding based on my personal Baha'i influenced perspective that we are going to enter a still unimaginable age of diversity and interrelationships and that this will not only be limited to humankind but humankind's relation to other species as well. It suggests that the survival of other species and a environmentally sound world governance will require a transformation of the relationship between all elements on earth, rather than the preservation of past relationships. Most of those past and present relationships are in fact morbid and incapable of resurrection. But the ideas proposed seeks to go yet another step beyond common understandings of bio-diversity. It suggests to those whose priority is environmental management, (particularly the preservation of non-human diversity), that they can only attain their aims through an incorporation of a strategy of increased but united human diversity. It suggests: "if you are interested in biodiversity you must support cultural diversity". This is because each expression of human diversity has the potential to carry with it a unique aspect of responsibility for the preservation of some aspect of the environment, including some aspect of other species continued existence.

Before I perceive any further on my ideas I would like to cite some thoughts from other Baha'i perspectives. Horace Holly in his introduction to the book: The Foundations of World Unity says the following.

"The distinctive characteristic of the life for 'Abdu'l-Baha, consisted in the fact that it was not merely a noble self-sacrificing and tireless insistence upon world unity as ideal, but likewise the definite presentation of world unity as a way of life. At a time when even the most unlikely liberalism conceived of unity in partial terms, a limited unity affecting only one plane of existence, such as religion, ethics, science or politics, 'Abdu'l-Baha by word and deed created a truly universal conception of the new term.

"To 'Abdu'l-Baha, world unity was not a mere linking together of formal institutions developed by society in its age of spiritual darkness and division, but a meeting and blending of hearts and minds awakened to renew consciousness of the destiny of humanity. As by the action of a pure solvent, his vision served to melt away the outer self - imposed by environment and quicken the innermost center of being where response is to the universal will. The purpose and powers of that will were upheld by him in a victory of love so complete that the total sum of his life becomes a vindication not of a nation, not of a race, not of a religion, but of mankind."

Then we have Baha'u'llah's statement that:

"Out of the waste of nothingness, with the clay of my command I made thee to appear, and have ordained for thy training every atom in existence and the essence of all created things."

And 'Abdu'l-Baha's statement that:

"...it is essential that ye show forth the utmost consideration to the animal, and that ye be even kinder to him than your fellow man."

How do we reconcile those three statements? I believe together they call for us to say that "loving animals more than mankind" means we they must give them, to the extent feasible and appropriate, the benefits that will accrue to humankind during the Baha'i dispensation. And of all the benefits that will accrue to humankind during the Baha'i dispensation is not the greatest that of "unity in diversity"? And if the benefit of the Baha'i era is to accrue to the animal kingdom as well as humankind, then they must partake of that unity in some form or other. A legitimate question, therefore, I propose, is whether it is possible to conceive of a "unity in diversity" of humankind that includes a unity of humankind with the other species of the animal kingdom?

I believe that it is not only possible to conceive of a new age of unity that includes a unity of mankind and the animal kingdom, but that if we look back upon past human cultures we will see there have been many cultures that have achieved various grades of unity with the animal kingdom. Most of us, when we think of man's relation to the animal kingdom, think of it as: "man as very separate from the kingdom"; or "man as dependent upon the kingdom as a resource", such as of the case of hunters and gatherers; or "men as they control limited amount of the animal kingdom", such as domesticated farm animals; or "man as the dominant partner of a small sector of the animal kingdom," such as man in his relation to a few unique species such as dogs. (Dogs in fact exist as an inherent part of humankind and have never existed in their present form independent of their integration with human society). Beyond these general examples, there are fascinating examples of specific societies that have had unique interactive cross-species relationships. All are relevant since every human culture, whether larger small, is an equal statement of the potential of humankind. Let us look at as few of these societies that have existed with special relationships to other species.

One might look at those societies dependent upon the camel. This was done in a fairly well recognized anthropological book called the Camel and the Wheel by Richard Bulliet. Bulliet did an intensive study of the adaptation of camels and societies, both where they are prevalent as well as attempts to introduce the camels to other societies, such as in Renaissance Italy, the United States during the Civil War, and into Australia for the mining industry. Outside of areas that can be called traditional camel cultures, the introduction of the camel did not succeed with the exception of Australia. (In Australia into the 1950s there remained tens of thousands of camels.) Bulliet's conclusion was that the camel requires a complex series of adaptation by those societies integrating it into their daily lives. Many of the adaptations clash with those of wheel-oriented cultures. In the idiosyncratic case of Australia, success was due to Afghan camel herding people being brought to Australia with the animals. Those Afghans established a sub-culture that possessed the complex set of "pro-camel" understandings and behaviors that were alien to the normal Australian culture into which they were being introduced.

A more esoteric example of human-animal cultural interface is the Imraguen, a unique people who live on the coast of the Sahara in the present nation of Mauritania. These people have been the subject of a Jacques Cousteau video (though these observation are base on my own experiences in Mauritania from 1979-83). The Imraguen posses no sea craft because their isolated desert area lacks any suitable construction material. Nor are they on any trade route, depending entirely on camel nomads to whom they are tributaries and from whom they receive only minimal needs on an interim bases in return for dry fish. As a result, from time immemorial, these people have fished the Atlantic Ocean by walking into the water and casting nets directly into the sea. Instead they have used a fishing technology unique in the world. Taking wooden paddles, they wade into the waters and begin beating on the waves. The sound of the beating serves as a call to the dolphins. The dolphins flock together and swim towards the Imraguen on the beach, pushing schools of other fish towards the beach. Then the Imraguen with their nets on one side of the swarming fish, and the dolphins on the other side, move towards each other and both enjoy the bountiful harvest.

One might claim that the dolphins' behavior represents a simplistic behavioral response to the reward of food. But the dolphin is a very intelligent animal and easily finds enough food in the very rich waters off the African coast without the help of the small group of dependent Imraguen on the beach. Rather, if one witnesses the hunt, one sees a prevailing spirit of common celebration. In a barren world, it appears to the observer that the Imraguen and the dolphins seem to have consciously melded together to find common joy as much as food in their shared pursuit of the fish.

Another interesting cross-species culture is that of the traditional Laplanders in Norway and their reindeer herds. (C.f. Pelto, P.J. The Snowmobile Revolution, 1968) this situation is not analogous to other hunting groups who follow specific species. The Laps and the reindeer interact on a daily basis with specific identification of individual animals with individual humans. The Laps follow the reindeer on the deer's migrations, protecting them from predators, helping them with the birthing of their young and living off a cull of the herd. Looking from afar at the case of the Laplanders, observers have noted that there is almost nothing the reindeer actually do in terms of changing their normal routines. Rather it is the Laplanders who have adjusted to following the geographic and seasonal routines of the deer, serving them as much and maybe more than the deer service the Laps. These observers have pointed out it would probably be more accurate to say that the reindeer have domesticated the Laps rather than vice versa.

Today we know that the fate of many of the few remaining fairly pristine or significantly dense and varied tropical forest areas, are probably closely tied to the survival of the indigenous cultures that have established sustainable relations with those environments over many years. We also know that as we look at new opportunities for protecting fragile environments, such as high mountain areas, or at reversing global warming through agricultural carbon sequestration, we must look at how to preserve or create anew sub-cultures dedicated to production systems that have as a goal the sustained maintenance of the eco-system of which they are a part. The maintenance of such systems requires immense sensitivities at all levels, from the air around us to the microbiology of the soil on which we trend.

It should be made clear when I when I speak of interspecies relationships I am not referring to the inherent interdependency of life and environment per se. Obviously many such interdependencies have evolved over time. What I am focusing on is the very important qualitative difference between physical or biological adaptation between life forms and a higher form of such adaptation that reflects conscious awareness of interspecies dependency and ongoing adaptation through active interspecies communications. Thus, in the case of the Imraguen, there is evidence that not only do the Imraguen call to the dolphins but that the Dolphins communicate in response. This is very different, as far as we can tell, from the case of ants which have "struck a bargain with insects that feed on plants -- aphids, mealy bugs, treehoppers and caterpillars -- (which) give sugary secretions to the ants for food... In return they are protected from enemies." (Holldobler and Wilson, Journey to the Ants, p 143). While one can make an analogy between ants and their aphid herds, and farmers and their cows, there is no evidence yet that the ants or the aphids are particularly cultural intertwined in a conscious fashion. For traditional human herders, such as Laps or African Fulani or Masai, their animals, while a source of production, are also an indispensable part of their core identity and consciousness as a culture. Thus Fulani sing love songs to their animal ­ something - that, at least to my knowledge - neither ants (nor commercial U.S. dairy farmers ­even those who work for Ben and Jerry's) do with their cows.

I would like to emphasize that what we are focusing on is particularly those interdependent species relationships in which there is awareness through interspecies communication. It is important to remember that such communication includes the ability of both species to communicate with each other. Anyone who has a dog knows that the dog understands their language and emotions better than they understand the dog's. Dogs could not exist without their strong sensitivities to human emotions and reactions. Other examples are the urban monkeys of India that have adapted to life within one the most congested areas of the world as almost another one of the many castes that are citizens of the city. Similarly, as wacky as it seems to non-garden fanatics - many people who are active growers of flowers and plants will tell you that they regularly speak to their plans and believe that the plants hear them. (Backed by clear evidence that plants do respond to music).

The role of communications in building awareness and interdependence between certain species is key to understanding why a major change in interspecies relations with humans in likely in the coming age. In fact fundamental changes have already occurred in terms of our ability to understand interspecies communications that have already begun such a new relationship. These changes depend on both evolving information technology and increasing understandings of animal psychology.

The hardware aspects basically involve the computer chip. There now over 6 billion chips in the world. These chips are creating a vast network of interconnectivity. Animals are already part of this network. You can go to your local veterinarian and get a computer wafer implanted in your pet so you can find them if they get lost. From this it is not very far to go to having chips implanted in sheep, cattle and perhaps wild animals in national areas that will allow there to be real-time twenty-four hour a day communication between those animals and monitoring humans. While it is a little further down the path, it is not inconceivable that chips will increase animal awareness of people. For instance chips could be put in animals that made them aware of the approach of human beings in cars that also have electronic chips. This phenomenon of "chip communication" already extends to the micro level. Modern agriculture already uses computer technology in combines to read the status of nutritional elements in the soil to adjust the ongoing application of fertilizer as the machine passes over the land.

These advances in what by be called the hardware aspect communication are accompanied by the beginning of a meaningful increase in our understanding of the software of animal communications. One of the ways I personally became aware of this was in connection with my return from the Congo.

Because of the situation the Congo, there wasn't much to bring home as a souvenir. I therefore ended up with one of the few things for sale in the market ­ an African Gray parrot. I had always presumed parrots merely mimic human voices. However for the last decade Dr. Irene Pepperdine has been experimenting with African Gray Parrots in the same way that earlier animal scientists worked with primates. Her evidence indicates that not only does the African Gray have the intelligence of an average four-year-old child, but also it is actually capable of understanding mathematical quantities and to respond to questions as to the number of objects added and subtracted in its presence. Information such as that from the work of Dr. Pepperdine is slowly dissolving, in a scientific fashion, past scientific assumptions (really scientific gaps in understanding) that denied to animals anything we were unaware of, such as the ability to feel and think. Such misconceptions confused a lack of a higher spiritual awareness, which animals may not have, with the much higher sense awareness than human, which they clearly do have, and which includes their ability to effectively communicate and reach new understandings with other species.

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